February 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

Expected Council Action

In February, the Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is scheduled to brief the Council for the first time since officially assuming her position on 17 December 2018. She will be briefing on the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI, the most recent developments in the situation, and the latest Secretary-General’s report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.

UNAMI’s mandate expires on 31 May 2019.

Key Recent Developments

Following the 12 May 2018 parliamentary elections and 2 October 2018 election of Barham Salih as president (a Kurdish politician who has held regional and federal office before), independent Shi’a politician Adel Abdul Mahdi was named prime minister by Salih. The formation of the Iraqi government continues. As at late January, the cabinet positions of the ministers of defence and the interior remain open.

On 16 December, Hennis-Plasschaert arrived in Baghdad. In a UNAMI press release, she named post-conflict recovery and the well-being of the Iraqi people as priorities for UNAMI, which will work towards these in the security, humanitarian, political, economic and development fields. She has met high-level government counterparts, including president Salih, prime minister Mahdi, foreign minister Ali Al-Hakim and the speaker of the House of Representatives (the Iraqi parliament), Mohamed al-Halbousi.

Iraqi government forces defeated the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in December 2017 after three years of fighting that resulted in massive destruction and the internal displacement of over two million people. In September 2017, the Council adopted resolution 2379, which requested the Secretary-General to establish an investigative team to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable for crimes it committed in the country by collecting, storing and preserving in Iraq evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. On 31 May 2018, the Secretary-General appointed Karim Asad Ahmad Khan of the UK as Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD). Support for UNITAD is part of UNAMI’s mandate.

On 4 December 2018, Khan gave his first briefing to the Council, based on his first report on the activities of UNITAD. In his briefing, Khan addressed UNITAD’s “guiding principles”, such as the independence and impartiality of the mechanism, while working in line with the principles of the UN Charter, UN policies and best practices. As pointed out in his report, the focus of UNITAD will be on those ISIL members who bear the greatest responsibility among the leadership as well as regional and mid-level commanders. Key priorities in the next few months will be completing the work on UNITAD’s premises in Baghdad, finalising its Standard Operating Procedures and recruiting staff. One-third of the members of the investigative team are to be Iraqi, with the recruitment process aiming at balance in gender, ethnic and religious representation.

The report further lays out the complex operating environment for UNITAD, considering that ISIL is still active in Iraq, some of the affected areas are not under the full control of the Iraqi government, and some require the removal of explosives. A steering committee composed of members of the Iraqi government and law enforcement bodies is charged with coordinating cooperation between the Iraqi government and UNITAD. Due to the ongoing government formation, the composition of the steering committee has been changing. UNITAD is currently focusing on a number of core activities, such as collection of existing evidence, identifying gaps and field-based investigations. Negotiations between UNITAD and the Iraqi government on the modalities of UNITAD’s engagement in the field are ongoing.

At a later point, evidence will be analysed, preserved and stored, to be used for proceedings in Iraq and other states, upon request by these states and following approval by the Council. The Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly, responsible for adopting the UN budget, endorsed UNITAD’s request for $21.5 million. The next report is due in May.

In a joint report published on 6 November 2018, UNAMI and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed the discovery of 202 mass graves since 2014 in areas formerly controlled by ISIL, with the expectation of more such discoveries. At the end of December 2018, another mass grave was discovered in northern Iraq, where residents described past extrajudicial killings by ISIL.

Regarding the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, the then-head of UNAMI, Jan Kubiš, reported in his final briefing to the Council on 13 November 2018 that there had been progress on the repatriation of Kuwaiti property from Iraq. This was welcomed by the Secretary-General in a statement on 14 November, calling it “an important step towards the full normalization of relations between the two countries”.

The UN’s 2018 humanitarian response plan for Iraq of $568.7 million was funded at 92.5 percent at $525.9 million, representing the highest coverage of all UN humanitarian response plans in 2018.

Sanctions-Related Developments

On 9 January, the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee held its first meeting since 2005. Members met with a high-level delegation from Iraq, discussing the recovery of Iraqi financial assets abroad, handling of delisting requests, and delisting of Iraqi entities. According to the annual report on the work of the committee, 20 entities were delisted in 2018 via written procedure, bringing the number of listed entities down to 149.

Women, Peace and Security

Hennis is the first woman to lead UNAMI, joining the two female Deputy Special Representatives, Marta Ruedas (head of the development and humanitarian support component) and Alice Walpole (political, electoral and constitutional support). During the Council’s 13 November meeting on Iraq, a few Council members pointed out that no women had been considered for cabinet positions during the government formation process so far and called upon the Iraqi government to ensure women’s representation at the highest decision-making level.

Issues and Options

The Council will continue to follow Iraqi progress in forming a government, and a formal Council product to express support for the new government is an option. The Council could consider conducting a visiting mission to Iraq to get a better understanding of current challenges on the ground.

As chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee, Poland could seize upon the momentum and political will of Council members and the Iraqi government to advance the delisting of entities and follow-up on concrete proposals on the unfreezing of Iraqi assets.

As for efforts to hold members of ISIL accountable for international crimes, the Council will continue to monitor developments regarding the investigative team. Some members, especially those opposed to the death penalty, continue to have concerns about the possibility that evidence shared by the team might be used in criminal proceedings in which capital punishment could be imposed. This may continue to affect member states’ willingness to contribute to the trust fund established by the Secretary-General, which currently consists of contributions made by the UK and Qatar, with the Netherlands having pledged earmarked contributions supporting witnesses and victims.

Council Dynamics

Council members are unanimous in their support for UNAMI. Both the new composition of the Council since 1 January and how Hennis-Plasschaert, the new head of UNAMI, will work in Iraq and with Council members will influence the Council’s engagement on that file.

Considering that Kuwait is currently an elected member of the Council, a formal Council product on the Iraq-Kuwait file may be a possibility at some point.

The US is the penholder on Iraq issues in general, and the UK is the penholder on Iraq-Kuwait issues. Poland is the chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee.

UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ

Security Council Resolutions
14 June 2018S/RES/2421 This was a resolution extending the mandate of UNAMI until 31 May 2019.
21 September 2017S/RES/2379 This resolution established an investigative team tasked with collecting, storing and preserving evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq.
Secretary-General’s Reports
31 October 2018S/2018/976 This was the Secretary-General’s 19th report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.
31 October 2018S/2018/975 This was the Secretary-General’s report on Iraq.
Security Council Letters
15 November 2018S/2018/1031 This letter transmitted the first report of the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD).
Security Council Meeting Records
4 December 2018S/PV.8412 This was the Council’s first-ever briefing by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD).
13 November 2018S/PV.8396 This was a briefing by the outgoing Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Ján Kubiš, on the latest Secretary-General’s report on UNAMI and the Secretary-General’s 20th report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property.
Sanctions Committee Documents
18 January 2019SC/13670 This was a press release on a meeting of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee with a high-level Iraqi delegation for a discussion about the recovery of Iraqi financial assets abroad, handling of delisting requests, and delisting of Iraqi entities.
8 January 2019SC/13658 This was a press release on the removal of three entities from the sanctions list.
14 December 2018S/2018/1127 This was the report of the 1518 Iraq Security Council Committee.